No. of Recommendations: 12
It is still Dr. Martin Luther King Day in Southern California. Happy Holiday and y’all are familiar with his “I had a Dream” Speech, but if not, here it is: (copy righted until 2038 but as Dr. MLK once said: “ has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.")? (full version).

Learning to read and write had always been the privilege of the elite and upper classes until the day public education was made mandatory. It varied from country to country. The Jewish culture of learning may be the exception, see Wendy’s post here

For the African slaves brought against their will to these shores, reading and writing usually had to be acquired by stealth. To this day there is inequity in teaching, funds for supplies and repairs of school buildings. Hear the voices of African American poets on the subject (excerpts only):

Learning to Read

Very soon the Yankee teachers
Came down and set up school;
But, oh! how the Rebs did hat it,–
It was agin’ their rule.

Our masters always tried to hide
Book learning from our eyes:
Knowledge didn’t agree with slavery–
‘Twould make us all too wise.

But some of us would try to steal
A little from the book,
And put the words together,
And learn by hook and crook.

I remember Uncle Caldwell,
Who took pot-liquor fat
And greased the pages of his book,
And hid it in his hat.

And had his master ever seen
The leaves upon his head,
He’d have thought them greasy papers,
But nothing to be read.
Frances E. W. Harper (1825-1911), born free in Baltimore, MD, a prolific poet, writer, activist in the Underground Railroad

For My People
For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn
to know the reasons why and the answers to and the
people who and the places where and the days when, in
memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we were
black and poor and small and different and nobody cared
and nobody wondered and nobody understood;

For the boys and girls who grew in spite of these thins to be
Man and Woman, to laugh and dance and sing and play
and drink their wine and religion and success, to marry
their playmates and bear children and then die of
consumption and anemia and lynching;
Margaret Walker (1915-1998), born in Birmingham Alabama, daughter of a Methodist minister

Angola (Louisiana) (one of the most notorious penitentiaries in the U.S.)

Three-fourth Mississippi
River, one-fourth rattlesnakes,
and for company, razorwire
fences, experiments from South
Africa, aging behind bars,
all in their seventies,
with no parole; perhaps
2500 natural life sentences,
30-year lifers behind bars.

Still, the roads have flowers;
and in the prison hospital
the Lifers Association creed
is in full bloom, technical
supernovas of the TV world;
you avoid mirrors as you can’t
avoid hard labor, false teeth,
high blood pressure, rape:
all this in the prison magazine.
I was born on False River:
tell my story in amplitude
from one slavery to another;
give me the pure medicine
for rape, murder, the nectar
in balm for the barroom fight;
teach me to read, and write. For Ernest J. Gaines

Michael S. Harper (1938– ), born in Brooklyn, N.Y.

All excerpts from Michael S. Harper & Anthony Walton, eds., Vintage Book of African American Poetry - 200 Years of Vision, Struggle, Power, Beauty, and Triumph from 50 Outstanding Poets, February 2000
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